Jessie Arora

Jessie Arora

Founder & CEO

Embark Labs

“Ask for help and offer to help. Everyone has something to learn and something to share. Women are often reluctant to ask for help, but that is really what will help you succeed. “

Years in Industry: 10

Who or what inspired your career in tech?
I was fortunate to work with some amazing people at Google during the early days of building and growing the AdWords team. Coming off a year of teaching English in Japan, I was immediately captivated by the pace of innovation working at a high-growth startup. A big focus of my career is to figure out how we can bring the energy, enthusiasm and culture of experimentation we commonly see in the startup world to K-12 learning environments.

What’s been your best career or life “hack” ever? 
Clearly I’m biased, but I’m a huge fan of Google Docs. Given my strong operations background, I apply many of those skills to running my home. In my family we have a spreadsheet for everything. Everything.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
I am not sure where I first heard this saying, but my goal is to “build a life that you don’t need a vacation from.” This quote really encapsulates all the conversations I have around work-life-integration, finding your passion, working with smart people, building something meaningful and finding joy in everyday life. As a mom of 2 young girls (5 and 2 years old) it is very important to me to be there for them while they are young. A big part of that is having autonomy over my schedule. In many ways, starting my own company has given me the flexibility to structure my day around my own schedule and optimize for times when I’m most productive.

What is your biggest career success to date?
While Embark Labs is still in its first year, I am tremendously proud of all the progress we have made. We are on a mission to teach kids how to think and encourage problem-solving through teaching computer science and computational thinking. It was great to see Embark Labs recently featured in this brief documentary, The Coding Generation, about how to increase diversity in the tech industry. We are working with several schools in the Bay Area this school year and have received interest from across the country. I can clearly see how the work I’ve done and relationships I have built since getting my MA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education has lead to the early successes we have experienced. It is incredibly encouraging that everything has been building up to this work.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to women who are starting out in the tech industry?
First, start writing. Writing is such a powerful learning tool that helps you organize your thoughts and clarify how you see the world. It also helps you develop and refine your voice. Second, ask for help and offer to help. Everyone has something to learn and something to share. Women are often reluctant to ask for help, but that is really what will help you succeed. When you can, ask how you can help someone else. Third, build a community around yourself and your product. This will serve you well both personally and professionally. I love the quote from Caterina Fake that “Utility drives adoption, community drives retention.”

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Read more nonfiction. I discovered a love for history and trivia later in life, which I think I would’ve found earlier if I spent more time reading that content at an earlier age.

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
My favorite thing to do in my alone time is to go for a run. When I’m with my family you can find us at the pool or the local farmer’s market.

Flats, heels or kicks?
Flats at work and kicks during off hours.

Best career advice book?
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig. If you don’t have time to read the book, Stanford ecorner has captured the key points in this bite-sized video.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why?
Maria Klawe has transformed the computer science program at Harvey Mudd in just a few short years. In an industry where so many people want to talk about increasing the number of women in tech, she is doing something about it in a very meaningful way. She has shown me the power that environment and community play on learning and engagement. This drives much of the thinking behind the Embark Labs community and we are proud to see equal enrollment of boys and girls in all our programs. Also, Joanne Wilson is such a badass blogger, investor, mom, chef, speaker…you name it. Her balanced perspective on women ‘trying to have it all’ has guided many of my choices as a mother, founder and investor myself.

 

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